Functional, fabulous, forgotten

Note: Please join me tonight, September 23, 2011 at Antigone Book Store in Tucson, AZ for a book signing of Raw Art Journaling. It’s at 7 p.m. and we’ll be making permission slips before the signing. Hope to see you there! [411 N 4th Ave  Tucson, AZ 85705-8444]

(520) 792-3715

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My parents were immigrants to this country. They came with very few possessions, so the things they brought had to be the most important. Their possessions fell into three categories:

  • Useful items for a household
  • Books
  • Clothing

It was pretty lean, but it was all important, practical, and functional.  I often play the game in my head, “If I had only three wooden crates to fill with important possessions, what would I take?” For my parents, it was no game. It was their life–in middle age. They had two children and three crates.

Wood inlaid darning egg

They chose things that would last. There are still linens in my closet, real linen, with the initials of my father’s mother. They are soft with age, but still ready for use. I should point out that those still-used linens are more than a hundred years old and show no signs of wear.

And then there is this item, on the left. It’s solid wood, inlaid, not painted. About the size of a goose egg. Much larger than a chicken egg, about the length of a navel orange. It’s beautiful and not only did my mother use it, I did, too.

I showed it to a friend about a month ago and she guessed it was decorative. My parents brought nothing decorative unless it was functional, and this piece was functional.

It’s a darning egg. You used it to darn socks. Socks developed holes from use, but you didn’t throw them out when they did. You got a thick cotton thread, dropped the darning egg into the sock, pulled either the long side or the rounded end into location to mimic the curve of the sock and darned the hole. Darning the hole consisted of stitching long supporting threads across the hole, then weaving back and forth to create a patch. You could also use it to fix holes in the knees and elbows of sweaters and jackets. I wore a lot of darned clothing when I was a child, and I learned how to darn. My mother’s patches looked like she had appliqued woven fabric onto the fabric.

This beautiful piece of mosaic wood now has no use. We throw things out when they wear out, socks are not meant to be darned. In just the span of one lifetime, the darning egg is forgotten. It’s not a tragedy, change happens. I’m not demanding to bring back darning as a money-saving method. Most clothing materials today aren’t built to take darning well.

I’m simply glad that this utilitarian device, which could have been made of glass or steel, was made with care and still delights the eye and hand. In my world, this carefully made piece is a piece of art that holds memories along with function.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She runs workshops and seminars through her business, QuinnCreative.